Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review: "The Last Airbender"

By Skip Tucker
My two teenage boys grew up watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Nickelodeon. They were so excited to see the movie version that we went to the 12:01 AM showing at the Grove. We got our 3-D glasses, found our seats and anxiously awaited the beginning of the movie.

To say this movie was a letdown would be the Understatement of the Year. Director (and writer) M. Night Shyamalan has managed to take a beloved anime series and turn it into a 103-minute, dumbed-down, incomprehensible, juvenile mess. The script feels like it was written in a remedial English class for people with roughly the IQ equivalent of Forrest Gump. The first hint is during the opening scroll, when a disembodied voice reads the words for those in the audience who apparently can’t read for themselves.

"The Last Airbender" tells the story of a fantasy world where certain people have the ability to manipulate (“bend”) the four elements – air, water, fire and earth. The Avatar is the only one who can bend all four and bring peace to the world, or Balance to the Force or some such nonsense. However, the Avatar has disappeared for the last 100 years, and the Fire Nation has conquered and subjugated the other three nations. Now the Avatar has returned. Oh, goodie.

The actors are, almost without exception, disappointing at best. Noah Ringer, who plays the title character, has an emotional range that starts and ends with “confusion.” The bad guys are laughably miscast. "Daily Show" correspondent Aasif Mandvi is Zhao, the Fire Nation commander, and throughout the movie I kept giggling at his voice and expecting him to start cracking jokes.
Jackson Rathbone, who plays Sokka, displays all of the memorable acting skills he's honed during his time as one of the sparkly vampires of the Cullen clan in the "Twilight" series. During all this, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel as Zuko does little more than sneer for most of his onscreen time.

The single exception to uniformly bad casting and bad acting was Shaun Toub (the guy in the cave who helped Tony Stark in Iron Man) as Zuko’s uncle. Of the entire lot, his was the only one who was believable and to whom the audience could sympathize with and relate to.

The most frightening element (if you’ll excuse the pun) of this botched abortion of a film comes at the end with an epilogue which makes it clear that there are (two) more Airbender movies in the works.

M. Night Shyamalan had a hit with “The Sixth Sense” in 1999. After that the spiral began with “Signs” in 2002, the incredibly ridiculous “The Village” in 2004, sinking deeper with “Lady in the Water” in 2006 and tanking with “The Happening” in 2008. For the love of all that’s holy, STOP LETTING THIS MAN DIRECT MOVIES!

Back in school I learned that punctuation is everything in headlines. This headline should read:

“Thinking of Seeing M. Night. Shyamalan’s new movie? Don’t! Miss ‘The Last Airbender’!”

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